Ascorbic acid is also known as ascorbate and, more commonly, as vitamin C. It is one of the essential nutrients required by the human body, and it is found in a wide range of foods. A naval surgeon was the first person to identify the link between scurvy and vitamin C deficiency in 1747, long before the scientific community had any real understanding of why citrus fruit kept the disease at bay.
Ascorbic acid was discovered in 1912, but wasn’t isolated until 1928 after which it swiftly went into production as a dietary supplement. In 1937, two of the scientists who led the research into vitamin C were awarded Nobel prizes, in large part because of the huge importance of ascorbic acid to human life.
The role of vitamin C in the body
While most animals are able to synthesise ascorbic acid within their bodies, humans are among a few that can’t and therefore need to include it in their diet to stay healthy. Ascorbic acid can be found in a range of fruit and vegetables including all citrus fruits, kiwi, blackcurrants, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts and peppers.
Ascorbic acid has a variety of functions within the body, and is responsible for the healthy functioning of almost every organ in one way or another. It is an anti-oxidant that boosts the immune system by preventing free radicals from damaging cells and contributing to a number of chronic diseases.
Ascorbic acid is also one of your body’s best weapons in the war on heart disease because it can help reduce blood pressure. Not only does it relax the blood vessels around the heart, but it can reduce inflammation and chronic heart disease as well. It is also used to combat scurvy, build collagen, fight infection by boosting the immune system and maintain good brain function and skin health.
Using ascorbic acid
Ascorbic acid is used as a preservative in a number of different foods, with the added bonus of enhancing the flavour of fruits and vegetables. Ascorbic acid is often added to fruit juices, dried and frozen fruits, fruit flavoured sweets and cereals. It has the combined effect of adding to the flavour and helping to preserve the products themselves.
In other foods, ascorbic acid is added purely for its preservative properties, such as bread and other baked goods, cured meats such as salami, and a variety of sauces. Its anti-oxidant properties slow the deterioration of the foods when they are exposed to the air so that they can be eaten safely for longer. It also helps to regulate the acidity of the product to ensure consistency of taste and texture.
Ascorbic acid recipes
Because ascorbic acid is such a good preservative, it can also be used to prevent food from browning during the preserving process. It inhibits the oxidation enzymes that make fruit such as peaches and nectarines start to spoil and its low pH also prevents microbial growth.
Ascorbic acid can be added to any food to increase its vitamin content, but it is also sometimes used as a way to increase acidity in foods or drinks to balance out sweeter flavours without needing stronger acids that also affect the taste. It is gluten free and vegan, so it can be used in any recipe that needs a hit of acid.
Acid-balancing or acid-adjusting is a rapidly expanding area of research when it comes to cocktail blending and ascorbic acid can be used to strengthen the flavours of mixers such as pineapple juice, without overwhelming more delicate flavours that might be lost when mixed with lemon or lime.